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In Their Own Words: COVID-19 Update on Food Insecurity

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As every country around the world navigates unprecedented restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) is working directly with humanitarian partners on the front lines during this crisis to advance research-based advocacy. Critical to that is hearing from our partners about how the pandemic is affecting the lives of displaced women, children, and youth. To date, organizations and individuals from across four continents have responded.

Here’s what we know so far about food insecurity

Wherever nutritional needs are unmet, families employ difficult and risky coping strategies, from restricting intake — which disproportionately affects women and girls in households — to forcibly marrying adolescent girls into wealthier households to reduce expenditure on girls’ basic needs.

From Afghanistan to El Salvador to Nigeria, we heard overwhelmingly from our partners that the loss of income for migrants, refugees, and local communities and the shuttering of services as a result of lockdowns means that food insecurity is an immediate threat to the well-being of displaced women, children, and youth.

Refugees who had been able to start small business, such as street vending, have seen those new ventures disappear as interacting with customers and suppliers becomes dangerous. Displaced communities that were reliant of cash transfers for food prior to the pandemic have, in some cases, seen cash transfer amounts reduced while, alarmingly, food prices continue to increase. In some cases where host governments are distributing emergency food rations, refugees have been excluded from these distributions.

Food is so scarce in some places that parents are resorting to child marriage for their young daughters, and women and girls have turned to survival sex/selling sex to avoid starving.

Displaced persons with disabilities and members of LGBTQI+ populations are facing increased and unique food scarcity challenges, as safe spaces and mobility assistance programs have become inaccessible during lockdowns.

Border closures around the globe as a result of the pandemic, many of which happened overnight, have meant that many displaced women and children are unable to return to their homes. Consequently, they have been separated from food supplies and children have been separated from caregivers and parents. “Our parents are locked down outside the settlement,” said a young girl in Kyaka II refugee settlement in Uganda. “How are we going to get food and money?”

Displaced women in Afghanistan report their first priority is not sanitizer or masks, it is food. A widow raising five children in Kabul said, “We know what COVID-19 is, but we don’t know how to feed our children.” In South Sudan, an area long vulnerable to food insecurity, the pandemic has disrupted food supply routes, leaving displaced communities further marginalized and in desperation.